As mentioned earlier, the species name "reticulatus" refers to the net like pattern which is found on the scales of all wild type specimens. Unfortunately, as is human nature, when we find a skin that is generally uniform in all specimens we “harvest” these skins in huge numbers to create clothes and/or shoes. This can happen in any animal species no matter the class or order, for example, the North American bobcat is “farmed” for only the small patch of belly fur because it is uniform in all specimens.
I have used two words above that in this case have the same meaning but are used by the clothing industry to make the practices involved seem more justifiable to the consumer. The words “harvest” and “farmed” both refer to animals that are taken at a prime age, slaughtered, skinned and then disposed of (the meat of the reticulated python is a delicacy in some native regions). The only significant difference is the place that these animals reach that prime age. Farmed animals are raised in a captive environment where as harvested animals are born in the wild and captured once grown on.
In 2006, 2007 and 2008 the export quotas issued by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) for live reticulated pythons in all three years was 4,500 animals. That's a grand total of 13,500 animals that were taken from the wild and entered into the pet industry. As a stand alone figure this may seem high. Yet, when compared to the export figure for skins and skin products from these years (157,500 each year) of 472,500 it becomes apparent that the pet industry and its 3% share is negligible.
With approximately half a million animals taken from the wild every year it is an amazing feat for the species to survive extinction let alone thrive. Yet, this species does exactly that, thanks in part to three key attributes.
The first is an ability to adapt to almost any habitat that it is presented with. This species can be found in dense jungles, marsh land (rice paddies) and even urban areas within towns and cities. As they are not heavy set animals in comparison to the Burmese Python or the Green Anaconda they are able to climb and actively hunt prey.
The second is the ferocious appetite that it is famed for within captive keepers. This never ending appetite and desire for food is driven by a opportunistic diet plan. There are very few animals that don't become part of the menu when you are at the top of the food chain, there is even a documented example of this species eating a Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) – one of the largest carnivorans in Indonesia!
The third and maybe the most important is the ability to reproduce in vast quantities. A female reticulated python usually becomes sexually active at around the age of 4 years old. From this point on she is capable of producing up to around 100 eggs every year. Over a 12 year cycle it would therefore be theoretically possible for a sexually reproductive pair of retics to become part of a direct family in the region of 5,000,000 animals strong!
Ironically, the very reasons that this species survives are also the reasons they are farmed so heavily. With over 5000 reticulated python farms throughout South East Asia these animals form a distinct part of the Indonesian economy. For many people this is a form of sustainable animal farming as a means of earning a wage.
So while I am not going to advocate the unnecessary “farming” of animals for the “harvesting” of their skin I will say that I can understand the view point and a desire to feed a family. I would also prefer that this is done over the unsustainable destruction of natural habitat which would lead to the extinction of many species.